Thanks to the COVID-19 Vaccine, I Was Reunited With an Old Friend

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by Brianna Albers |

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Content warning: The following contains a mention of suicide.

If you know me at all, you know that I love Target.

I’m not proud of it. If anything, I’m this close to canceling my RedCard and Shipt membership. But I can’t deny my years-long obsession with the retail store identified by a red-and-white bull’s-eye.

It started during the Dark Ages, which is what I call my first two years of undergrad. I’ve written about the Dark Ages — formally known as major depression — before, so I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I was one sad girl. The therapist in me can recite everything from symptoms to the complex web of biopsychosocial stressors that led to the Dark Ages. But it’s easier to say that I stayed up till 8 a.m., slept in till 4 p.m., and played video games for a good chunk of the day (night). I rarely left the house. I was unmotivated, uninspired, and underwhelmed.

The Dark Ages were dark. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to live, either. I was in a liminal space, the blurry stretch between life and death. I was coasting and, most of all, I was sad. Life post-high school wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. People in my circle were moving out, getting engaged, figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives, and I was me — which is to say I didn’t know who I was, let alone who I wanted to be as a bona fide adult with a state I.D. and student loans.

I wore pajamas all the time; I flinched at the faintest beam of sunlight. I was miserable.

Then came Target.

Reunited and it feels so good. (Photo by Brianna Albers)

Shopping didn’t fix my depression. If anything, it got me into trouble — years later and I’m cursing my ability to accumulate debt. You know something’s wrong when you buy things solely to stimulate emotion. But my trips to Target …

I don’t want to call them healing. But they were exactly what I needed. Target was a short, five-minute drive away, but it felt like an entirely different world. There were people! Sounds and sights and evidence of life. Suddenly, I was real again, part of the world, a tiny cog in a giant machine.

Sometimes I bought cookie dough. Sometimes I bought clothes that I never actually wore. Sometimes I browsed the book aisle, with all the intensity of someone who was slowly remembering how to love something other than sadness. It was a terrible attempt at manufacturing serotonin, but it worked.

I wasn’t human. Not yet. But I was getting there.

Recovery took years — and medication. I still struggle with depression, especially when the sun sets and my animal brain tricks itself into believing that night will last forever. But I’m better. I may have relapsed a little during the pandemic, because sometimes you really do get a hit of serotonin when you click the checkout button. But Target is just Target, a one-stop shop for things you need and things you don’t.

Target is just Target. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it. When my friend from Scotland came to visit, I practically forced them to Target. We didn’t need anything, not in the strictest sense of the term, but I had less than two weeks to simulate the American way of life, and Target was unnecessarily high up on my list of must-dos.

COVID-19 kept me out of Target for over a year. So, you can imagine my excitement upon getting vaccinated. I could see my friends, but more importantly, I could return to my favorite store in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. Before the pandemic, Target runs with my caregiver and her daughter were one of my favorite pastimes.

Brianna, right, and Elena, back where they belong. (Courtesy of Danielle Lind)

On a Friday afternoon, armed with a face mask and my favorite pair of overalls, I reunited with an old friend. I even went so far as to text the group chat a squinty-eyed selfie. The sun was in my eyes, and my hair was stuck to my face, but that didn’t stop me from acknowledging the gravity of the moment. Finally, things were back to normal.

In the words of legendary smuggler Han Solo: “Chewie, we’re home.”

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